Court Rules Sedentary Job Led to Worker’s Death; Husband Entitled to Benefits

Reminiscent of the question which came first – the chicken or the egg, New Jersey courts recently had to deal with the dilemma of which contributed more to an Edison woman’s death – her less-than-healthy, personal lifestyle or her sedentary work conditions.

This case rose from a workers’ compensation claim filed by the widower of Cathleen Renner, a long-time employee of AT&T who died in 2007 from a pulmonary embolism. According to court reports, on the night of her death Mrs. Renner worked for more than ten hours at the computer in her home office in order to meet a pressing deadline for work. About an hour later she was dead. (1)

Mrs. Renner’s husband, James, filed a claim for death benefits under the State’s workers’ compensation law. In New Jersey, workers’ compensation insurance pays benefits to employees for illness or injury incurred in connection with their jobs. It also pays benefits to dependents of employees who die as a result of employment-related activities. (2)

Mr. Renner contended that his wife’s embolism was the result of the long hours spent in front of the computer as required by her job. (3) Embolisms are blood clots which usually form in the leg after long periods of inactivity. The clots can then break off and travel to the lungs where they can cause a blockage, as in Mrs. Renner’s case. (1)

AT&T argued that other factors may have contributed to Mrs. Renner’s death, namely her weight and the fact that she had recently begun taking birth control pills, which can increase the risk of blood clots. Mr. Renner argued that despite his wife’s weight, which was over 300 pounds, she was active in her personal time. (1)

Medical witnesses for both sides agreed that while other factors could have played contributing roles, the timing of Mrs. Renner’s death in relation to her extended work stint suggested that the death was work-related. As such, Mr. Renner was entitled to the benefits. The lower court ruled in Mr. Renner’s favor and this past week, the appellate court upheld the lower court’s ruling. (1)



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